Sunday, 2 July 2017

SADE: Stronger Than Pride & Love Deluxe

Following the rapid release of their first two albums, Sade began the first of a series of extended breaks that see the band attain a level of mystery to accompany their fame. 

Stronger Than Pride (1988)
Featuring a more expansive and energetic sound than their first two albums, Stronger Than Pride represents both a culmination and a step forward for the band's established style.

A bit more hot and heavy than her other albums, this one feels like the soundtrack to one of those erotic thrillers that came out around the same time as the album. Hit single 'Paradise' definitely sounds like it could be the theme song for Against All Odds or Body Heat.

While the singles are solid, it is the deep cuts where Adu and the band really get to flex their muscles. The omnipresent melancholy feels less of an affectation.

I'm not sure what to call the title track. It is built on a slow rhythm, and while the tempo never changes that much, it has a great sense of pace to it. A lot of Sade songs feel long but this one never does.
    Following this slow burn, 'Paradise' feels like a shot of adrenaline. The hit song off the album, it features a great beat to it. It feels like the band are really locked in.

    'Nothing Can Come Between Us' is less memorable, but maintains the same kind of tempo. It has a good melody, and the interplay between Sade and a backing male vocalist adds a little more pizzazz to it.

    Opening with acoustic guitar, 'Haunt Me' sounds exactly like its title. Joined by piano and Sade's voice, the song is an eerie experience abetted by the sense of space. Other instrumentation is mixed low, leaving the song as a largely instrumental duet between strings and keys. Sade often tries for mysterious and fails - 'Haunt Me' succeeds, and is one of the more memorable deep cuts on the album.

    Built on an off-kilter groove, 'Turn My Back On You' is the funkiest track on the album. The song has a dirty bass foundation that sets it apart. Adu's vocals are separated from the band - it sounds like she is being beamed in from another dimension. It's an odd effect, but means that she almost becomes the backing track for the band, who are on great form here. It's a pretty long song, but the band throws in enough solos and variations on the basic groove that it never grows stale.

    A more traditional Sade number, 'Keep Looking' is also built on a faster tempo, but feels more akin to 'Hang On To Your Love' or 'Paradise' than 'Turn My Back On You'. The guitar which helped give 'Haunt Me' such power returns. Once again, it is mixed louder than the rest of the instruments. It almost acts as a accent to Adu's vocals. It's familiar but with a dash of something new and spicy.

    More of a ballad, 'Clean Heart' slows things down as Adults returns to another story of love, loss and introspection. Once again, the band are on great form, and make the song feel fresh (there's some lovely muted trumpet sprinkled around).

    With strong percussion, 'Give It Up' picks up the pace but lacks 'Paradise's strong bottom end and catchy melody. It's pleasant enough, but it was not until I heard Vacation's (DJ John MCSwain) recent mashup with Drake's 'Get It Together', that it became clear what was missing.
      Most famous for its use in the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle True Lies, 'That'll Be The Day' is a haunting, introspective slow burn. It's not one of Sade's best known songs, but it is one of the stronger deep cuts. It's a good atmospheric piece - you can imagine it as the last song playing in a hotel bar - but has a strange, emotional pull that makes it linger in the mind. A hidden gem, and one of my personal favourites.

      The album's finale is a real change of pace. 'Siempre Hay Esperanza' uses what sounds like a cheap drum machine as its rhythm section. It sounds odd at first, but when blended with other instrumentation (mostly sax and other percussion), it works. It should sound like the most Eighties track on the album, but it is so odd that it never feels completely contemporary. 

      Overall, while Stronger Than Pride largely draws inside the lines of what you would expect from a Sade record, there are several curveballs in terms of style and instrumentation that make it feel like a step forward from the rigid template of the preceding albums.

      Love Deluxe (1992)
      One thing you can say about Sade is that they don't rush. Four years after their last album, Love Deluxe was released. More in line with the cool melancholy of her earlier albums than the relatively humid Stronger Than Pride, Love Deluxe delivered another hit single in 'No Ordinary Love', which gained a second wind after its inclusion in the 1993 film Indecent Proposal.

      Love Deluxe is the first Sade album I ever bought, and that was largely because it had 'No Ordinary Love' on it. It was so good, I ended up letting the album play. I used to be a little leery of Sade, mainly because I'd heard so many people who called her a 'jazz' singer. I'm not that musically literate but I've never felt like she had much affinity with real jazz singers. Taken as a pop singer, she makes more sense.

      One of Sade's best and most well-known songs, 'No Ordinary Love' opens the album on a high note. A return to the cool elegance of their first two albums, the song is a marvel of understatement and atmospherics. Like their best songs, it opens slow and minimalist, before gradually building in tempo and sound into a monster. It's great.

      A slight change of pace, 'Feel No Pain' is a reggae-like track that is great at three minutes, but goes on for five. Built on a slow, steady groove, it's a pretty good song that feels just a smidge longer than it needs to be.
        'Couldn't Love You More' is the Sade song per excellence. It's not the best Sade song ever, but it is the best example of what a Sade song is. For a song about love, it is surprisingly melancholiac. You could read it as a message to someone who has passed away).

        More Latin in feel, 'Like a Tattoo' returns to the stripped-down, guitar-led sound of Stronger Than Pride. Adu's voice works best with a lot of space, and this kind of arrangement really adds a weight to the melancholy of the lyrics. In the same way that Promise built on and improved upon their debut, Love Deluxe feels like a refinement of Stronger Than Pride, and 'Like a Tattoo' is the perfect example of this evolution.

        A piano ballad, 'Kiss of Life' is far more upbeat than the previous songs. Sade's vocal is warmer than usual melody is far more straightforward - the song is so positive ini sentiment, I started to think it was a gag. But no. The music does not deviate to the mordancy of the first half of the album, and Adu's lyrics never undercut the music's good vibes. An odd change of pace, but a welcome one.

        Sounding like a precursor to every Dido song ever made, 'Cherish the Day' is another ballad about pining about a man you can't have. The guitar is the standout here - backed by electronic atmos, it gives the song a pathos that complements Adu's vocals. The final single off the album, it was later covered by Robert Glasper on his album Black Radio.

        'Pearls' is a tribute to a poor pearl diver. It's a bit dubious in terms of its lyrical choices, and the lush orchestration over-eggs the whole thing. It's the one real dud on the album.

        A minimalist funk number? A piano ballad? More low-key than 'Pearls', with a deliberately undercooked groove, 'Bullet Proof Soul' is one of the more intriguing tracks on the album. The metaphor of the lyrics is rather evocative, and is augmented by the idiosyncratic instrumentation.

        Awash in world music-style synths, 'Mermaid' evokes the title character's aquatic environment in a style that feels very 1992. It might be the most contemporary Sade has ever sounded. An otherworldly instrumental, it is a strange, haunting way to close the album. Once again, Sade manage to tilt away from their formula at the right time.

        Love Deluxe is not as consistent as Promise, nor as adventurous as Stronger Than Pride yet it remains one of Sade's best collections of songs. It makes a few changes to the basic template which, combined with the quality of the songs, ensures that album sounds of a piece with its predecessors without sounding too familiar.

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